Teen Librarian Toolbox
Inside Teen Librarian Toolbox

Playaways in the Library: A Story in Your Pocket

My library system recently got funding to invest in a starter collection of Playaways. Trying to maximize the most of our funds, we opted for the Playaways rather than the Playaway views (which I have to admit are awesome- I’ve played with them at ALA Midwinter, so if you’re going to ALA Annual go check them out- they’re under Findaway World, booth 1657). At my location, I focused on youth and young adult titles, including those that I knew were ones that were going to be required summer reading, and they have circulated like CRAZY! My kids (I always call my youth patrons my kids) are familiar with how they work as the upper elementary and middle schools have them in their libraries, and they were so excited about “their” library having them. So today, in my kids words, I present to you why they think Playways are “super better” than audiobooks (with a translation in parenthesis).

  • Cuz they don’t melt in the car (the audiobooks that we carry are all on CDs, and especially in Texas heat, if they’re left in the car they can tend to warp)
  •  I don’t have to share with anyone (Playaways are self contained audiobooks that use headphones, so one person can listen at a time if you choose. If you want more than one, you can use an audio cord to plug it into a radio or your car, or a headphone splitter to use for multiple headphones).
  • Don’t need iTunes to listen to it (a lot of my kids and teens do not have CD players save on their computers, just a variety of MP3 players, so in order to listen to the audiobooks they were having to download them onto their devices)
  • It plays in order (when they did download the audiobooks onto their devices, they were having trouble with the chapters staying in order)
  • I can slip it into my pocket and no one knows I’m doing homework (the Playaways are about the size of my iPod touch, and much smaller than my cell, so they can put them in a backpack or pocket and just have the headphones or earbuds out and pretend to listen to music instead of actually doing homework)
  • It helps with my English (I recently did a display where I paired up the Playaways we had with the physical books, thinking that the kids would want to read along with the audio version. Turns out that it wasn’t the kids who were checking them out the most from that display, it was our ESL adult who were trying to improve their reading and comprehension skills- by listening and reading along, they could pair up the words and practice, and since they were young adult books, they could talk along with their teens and share the experience)
  • Easy to work (the buttons are really easy for smaller fingers to use, and the cases that we have contain the instructions to use as well, so even the youngest kids can listen to the picture book ones that we purchased)
  • It’s a storytime when you’re not in the library 

Do you have Playways in your library? What has been your experience? Share with us in the comments!

Karen’s Note: I checked out a Playaway from Christie’s library and I have this handy old iPod device that allowed me to listen to the Playaway on my car stereo. You simply plug the device into the earphone jack and put it on the correct radio station.  Mine is seriously old, there are newer versions if you look around online.  Also, I had Playaways at my old library system and they are popular because a lot of teens no longer have CD players for audio books because, you know, everything is on their phone.  Actually, I don’t even own a CD player, though I do have one in my car which is where I listen to my audio books, which I now adore.  For me the biggest issue for Playaways versus Books on CD is that I didn’t have to worry about the batteries running out and then I didn’t have to buy my own battery to replace in the unit (most libraries do not provide replacement batteries due to cost).

June is Audio Book Month.  Learn more and enter our Audio Book Giveaway.


  1. You make some good points for playaways. At my library, we do not like them at all. They seem to break easily, have terrible sound, and cost much more than a book on cd. They also don't circulate as much as the books on cd. We are moving toward the eAudiobooks more than anything, and those are able to be used on a smartphone. I had never thought about the fact that they can hide that they are doing homework or reading. While I think they should be proud to read, I know that they don't always listen to what I think! Haha!

  2. They are also good for the 'different learner'. Students who learn better by listening can hear the new words and see the new words as they listen along while reading the book. They can also adjust the speed of the narrator if they are a slower/faster reader.

  3. We haven't had that yet, and fingers crossed we won't. The ones we have gotten so far (knock on wood) have good quality. They cost a lot more, but at my branch they circulate more than the CDs (then again, it's a population thing). The one nagging thing is that the patrons forget to turn it off, so the batteries die out.

    I would love it if they were proud to read, and they'll read in the library, but if they're on the bus or in school, a lot of times they'll loose “cred” (which I know is not the word they use) if they're seen with books and end up getting harassed, so instead they can have the earbuds and pretend it's something else- especially when they hit middle school/ early high school when things are so awkward.

  4. Absolutely!

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